Futile but not Meaningless: Resistance in ‘The Nightingale’

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The Nightingale was written, directed and co-produced by Jennifer Kent (Source: Cinematerial).

Thanks to Hull Independent Cinema I recently got to see The Nightingale, the controversial Australian film written, directed, and co-produced by Jennifer Kent. Whilst it is definitely not right to say I enjoyed the experience, it is a very well-made and thought-provoking film that has led me to reflect on the nature of resistance against a much more powerful force. Against something as dominant at the British Empire, acts of resistance can often seem futile, but The Nightingale explores how these acts are still meaningful.

Set in 1825 in the British penal colony of van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), the film is driven by the story of Clare Carroll, played by Aisling Franciosi, an Irish convict who sets out for revenge after suffering horrific physical and sexual violence at the hands of British Army Lieutenant Hawkins (played by Sam Claflin) and his men. She recruits an Aboriginal man named “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr) to help her track the British soldiers as they travel through the bush. At first Clare is suspicious of Mangana and is aggressive and racist towards him, but as the story progresses they come to realise that they have both suffered at the hands of the British, both in terms of themselves as individuals and the societies and cultures which they come from. A mutual respect and affection develops from this shared trauma.

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Baykali Ganambarr plays “Billy” Mangana, an Aboriginal man who has suffered at the hands of the British but makes a living acting as a guide for settlers and soldiers who do not know how to survive or navigate in the bush (Source: The Nightingale, 2018).

The Nightingale has been criticised for its graphic depictions of physical and sexual violence. The defense for this is it is an accurate depiction of how indigenous Australians and convicts were treated, and the film was made in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders. The violence is shocking, and very difficult to watch, but I have no doubt that this kind of thing went on and I think it is important that the full horrors of British colonial rule in Australia and around the world are acknowledged. The acts of violence which the film depicts powerfully conveys a sense of how cheap indigenous and convict life was to the British army and most white settlers. Clare and Mangana do receive one or two acts of kindness, but even this is difficult for Mangana as he is forced to accept charity from settlers on land that by rights belongs to his people.

In the film, language is a form of resistance. Clare is known to the British soldiers as the Nightingale because of her beautiful singing voice, and on their journey both Clare and Mangana sing in their respective native languages, gaelic and palawa kani. The Irish and Aborigines both suffered systematic brutality that could arguably be classified as genocide at the hands of the English; both cultures and societies have been pushed to the very edge of existence. In these circumstances celebrating native culture becomes a powerful act of defiance. Even today, it is quite unusual to see native languages like this included in films, so it can arguably be classed as an act of resistance by the filmmakers as well as the characters.

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Clare and Mangana have had traumatic lives, and they also go through some awful things during the course of the film, but they seem to find some comfort in their respective native languages (Photo: The Nightingale, 2018).

The thing that struck me most about Clare and Mangana’s acts of resistance during The Nightingale is their futility. I left the theatre feeling desperately sad that there was no way either character would be able to achieve happiness, or even have a ‘normal’ life after the events of the film. Both characters had put up with a significant amount of injustice and abuse because to do anything about it would only make their lives worse. As the film progressed, both were subjected to experiences that made them abandon that attempt at self preservation. Another aboriginal man known as Charlie, the guide employed by Hawkins and his men, also reaches a similar breaking point and stands up to his oppressors. On one level, these acts of resistance are futile as well as self-destructive; they mean little in the face of the British imperial system. On another level, however, their actions are incredibly meaningful; Clare and Mangana both seem to find some kind of peace by the very end of the film. Clare, Mangana, and Charlie’s resistance may have been futile in the grand scheme of things, but it was absolutely necessary to them. They were under no illusions that their actions would overthrow British rule, and they did not seem to expect to survive their revenge mission, but they did it anyway. Resistance is about rejecting the way things are, but it isn’t always about trying to change them; it is often futile, but it is never meaningless.

The Nightingale is not a pleasant watch, and I wouldn’t recommend you sit down to watch it with a bowl of popcorn on a Saturday night. But it is a well-made and powerful story that I think needed to be told, and you should see it if you get the chance.

 

Protest Stickers: Melbourne

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Melbourne is famous for its street art (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This summer, I spent 3 weeks travelling around Australia and New Zealand. I have already written blog posts about Sydney’s Protest Stickers, and the Lennon Wall for Hong Kong in Melbourne. Melbourne has a reputation for being Australia’s most cosmopolitan city. It is also known for its culture, particularly the restaurants, bars, boutique shops, and street art in the city’s Laneways. As it turns out, it’s also pretty good for protest stickers. Like most large cities, Melbourne’s protest stickers address issues on a range of scales, from the local, through the national, to the global. I found some stickers that I have seen elsewhere in the world, and some that are uniquely Melburnian.

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There has been a lot of debate recently about free speech and ‘no platforming’. The producer of this sticker is quite confident about the best way to counter fascist beliefs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is alluding to Australia’s colonial history. There is no one Aboriginal name for Australia, because there was a large number of Aboriginal communities and societies when Europeans arrived. Aboriginal peoples have suffered extensive hardship, prejudice and discrimination at the hands of Europeans, and although their treatment has improved, there is still a long way to go (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Fin Free Melbourne is a group that campaigns for the banning of all shark-fin based products in Melbourne, with the ultimate goal of protecting shark species all over the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Climate change is an increasingly popular topic of protest stickers around the world, and Melbourne is no exception (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The School Strike for Climate is a global movement kickstarted by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. School Strike 4 Climate is an Australian organisation that coordinates strikes around the country (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

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Extinction Rebellion is another global climate movement. It started in the UK in late 2018, but now has a strong Australian branch (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Be Fair Be Vegan is a US-based campaign group that funds advertising campaigns to promote veganism. Melbourne is just one of the cities in which they have paid for advertising (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The colours on this sticker have faded, but at one point it would have been the Trans flag (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Unfortunately, I sometimes find stickers that promote racist and far-right politics. It seems that I am not the only one who took offence at the message of this sticker however, as someone has tried to erase and obscure it (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker has also provoked some debate–words and letters have been removed, covered over and written again to alter its message. Police forces around the world can be controversial, with some appreciating the safety and protection they offer, whilst others think they abuse their power and discriminate against minority groups (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also criticising the police, alongside prisons and more broadly capitalism. Some of it has been removed, but I can still tell from the colour scheme and blood splatter that it is playing on Kill Bill, the popular 2003 Quentin Tarantino film (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker is also criticising capitalism, arguing that workers deserve to keep everything (including wealth) that they generate. I don’t recognise the character in the middle of the sticker

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more comprehensive protest sticker! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

Protest Sydney: Stickers

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A World Wildlife Fund sticker in front of the Sydney Opera House (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In the summer of 2019, I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks travelling around Australia and New Zealand with my sister. As usual, wherever I went I kept an eye out for protest stickers, and the Antipodes did not disappoint. The first city we visited was Sydney. Founded in 1788 by the British as a penal colony, it is now Australia’s largest city.

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I thought this sticker might have something to do with immigration policy, but it turns out that Keep Sydney Open was founded to campaign for an evidence-based approach towards policy on the nighttime economy. They felt that they weren’t being listened to as a campaign group, however, so in 2018 became a political party and broadened the range of issues they are concerned with. I found this sticker in Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s most famous suburbs (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Another political party who have left their traces in Bondi Beach is The Greens, a left wing party with four main principles: ecological sustainability, grassroots democracy, social justice and peace and non-violence. Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world, so it is not surprising that housing is an important political issue (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Alongside local politics, the protest stickers in Hong Kong also reflected global issues. Here, a post-it note has been drafted into service as a protest sticker supporting the recent protests in Hong Kong. Since June, protesters have been clashing with police in Hong Kong over China’s increasingly repressive rule. At the time of writing this post in early October, there is no sign of either the protesters or the Chinese government backing down. Solidarity protests have taken place around the world, including Sydney, Taiwan, and Melbourne (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Another global movement that only seems to be increasing in momentum is Extinction Rebellion. Founded in the UK in late 2018, this leaderless, nonviolent movement has spread around the world, including several global days of action. The Australian Extinction Rebellion seems just as determined as any other group to get their demands met (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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It is clear that not everyone supports the aims of Extinction Rebellion, as someone has tried to obscure the message of this sticker. There is something written over the image too, but I cannot make it out. The Australian government is currently led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who does not seem to view climate change as too much of a priority (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This sticker, produced by the Greens, is also suggesting that significant political reform is needed in order to effectively counter climate change (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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This sticker was also produced by the Greens, and it highlights the negative impacts of climate change that go beyond climate change (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Save Poppy is an organisation that aims to persuade people to give up meat by sharing information about the “cruelty, environmental destruction and the health impact of animal agriculture.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is another sticker promoting SavePoppy.com. Protest stickers promoting veganism have become increasingly common over the last few years. Many of them take a similar approach to this one, arguing that it is hypocritical to love animals and eat meat (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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This is very poetic for a protest sticker. The A in a circle is a common anarchist symbol, and many anarchists believe that prisons should be abolished (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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Same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia in 2017, so this sticker is a bit of an antique by protest sticker standards! (Photo: Hannah Awcock). 

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What protest sticker blog post is complete without an anti-fascist sticker? Anti-fascist Action was originally founded in the UK in 1965, but there are now branches all over the world (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

 

 

Lennon Wall for Hong Kong: Solidarity in Melbourne

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“Free HK”, part of the Hong Kong solidarity wall in Melbourne, Australia (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

At the time of writing this blog post in early September 2019, there appears to be no end in sight to the protests which started in Hong Kong in June. The spark which lit the tinder was a proposed extradition bill which would make it easier to transport people from Hong Kong to mainland China for questioning and trial. People in Hong Kong do not trust China’s justice system to be fair and impartial. Under pressure from protests whose intensity seemed to take everyone by surprise, the Hong Kong government shelved the extradition bill. This did not end the protests however, as the bill had tapped into a deeply held fear among the people of Hong Kong. Since being returned to China by Britain in 1997, residents of Hong Kong have enjoyed a lot more freedom than citizens of mainland China do, and they protect this freedom fiercely. For the protesters, the extradition bill was just one part of a much broader attempt to strip Hong Kong of its cherished freedom, and they are not willing to give their special status up without a fight. Over the last few months, protesters have clashed with police around the city.

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Hosier Lane in Melbourne is famous for it’s street art, and has become a significant tourist attraction (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

At the start of August 2019, I visited Melbourne in Australia, and I was quite surprised to find a wall full of messages expressing solidarity with, and seeking support for, the protesters in Hong Kong. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been: Australia has strong connections with China. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and in 2017 there were 500,000 Chinese-born migrants living in Australia. Melbourne is known for its cosmopolitanism, and the city’s Laneways (alleys) are famous for edgy street art, shops, bars, and restaurants. The most famous for street art is Hosier Lane; it has become a popular tourist attraction. The solidarity wall is at the bottom of Hosier Lane, near the junction with Flinders Street.

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The Hong Kong solidarity wall in Hosier Lane, Melbourne (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

The wall is made up of posters calling for support and explaining what is happening in Hong Kong, and post-it notes with messages of solidarity. It feels spontaneous, but it is actually the result of a piece by Chinese artist Badiucao. He created a piece of street art featuring Chinese leader Xi Xingping and Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam, then invited people to add their own messages of solidarity. A box of post-it notes and marker pens has been left so that visitors can add their own messages. This practice has become known as ‘Lennon Walls,’ which have appeared all over Hong Kong during the protests. They are now springing up elsewhere, including Toronto and Tokyo. The original artwork of Lennon Wall for Hong Kong can just about still be seen in the above image: it is the black text on the white background peeking out above the post-it notes.

I spent a little while watching other visitors interact with the wall. Many had little interest, others seemed to be interested in finding out what all the fuss was about, and some, particularly those who appeared to be of Asian origin, seemed quite moved by the outpouring of solidarity. I would be curious to know if this message of solidarity reaches protesters in Hong Kong however: do they know how much support they have in Melbourne?

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A box of stationary attached to the wall so that people can add their own messages of support (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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A message left by a member of an airline crew, explaining how much the wall meant to them (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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A visitor to the wall adds their own message (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

It is very important to the protesters in Hong Kong that people around the world know about their struggles and understand them, which is one of the reasons they have targeted Hong Kong International Airport over the summer; a controversial tactic which risks alienating travelers instead of convincing them that the cause is just. The Lennon Wall suggests that the message is getting through, however. It gives a strong sense of solidarity and obviously means a lot to people from Hong Kong. It also highlights the obvious overlaps between street art and resistance; a subversive medium to begin with, street art is an obvious companion to protest.

Sources and Further Reading

BBC News. “Hong Kong Anti-Government Protests.” Last modified 3rd September 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/c95yz8vxvy8t/hong-kong-anti-government-protests

Clark, Helen. “Should Australia Fear an Influx of Chinese?” This Week in Asia. Last modified 30th July 2017, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2100798/should-australia-fear-influx-chinese

Dalziel, Alexander. “Post-it Protest in Support of Hong Kong Backlash over Extradition Plan.” The Age. Last modified 20th August 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/post-it-protest-in-support-of-hong-kong-backlash-over-extradition-plan-20190720-p5293c.html

Sydney Morning Herald. “Chinese Political Artist Badiucao supports Hong Kong Protesters with Hosier Lane ‘Lennon Wall.'” Last modified 20th July 2019, accessed 3rd September 2019. Available at https://www.smh.com.au/world/chinese-political-artist-badiucao-supports-hong-kong-protesters-with-hosier-lane-lennon-wall-20190720-h1ge99.html